Relatives of those who died in the Sept. 11 attacks want a New York college to cancel the speaking appearance of a University of Colorado professor who has compared the victims to Nazis and said they got what they deserved.
"This is not free speech. Free speech requires an element of responsibility," Cynthia Brennan said in a protest letter sent to Hamilton College trustees upon learning the school had invited Indian activist Ward Churchill to speak on campus as part of a Feb. 3 panel discussion titled "The Limits of Dissent."
Brennan's brother-in-law, Joseph Coppo, died in the World Trade Center. Coppo's son Matthew -- Brennan's nephew -- is one of the 1,750 students who attend the small liberal arts college in Clinton, 40 miles east of Syracuse.
Following the Sept. 11 attacks, Churchill wrote an essay, "Some People Push Back: On the Justice of Roosting Chickens," that hailed the "gallant sacrifices" of the "combat teams" that struck America.
He said the World Trade Center victims deserved to die because they were a willing part of "the mighty engine of profit."
"True enough, they were civilians of a sort. But innocent? Gimme a break," Churchill wrote.
Churchill went on to describe the trade center victims as "little Eichmanns," a reference to Adolf Eichmann, who organized Nazi leader Adolf Hitler's plan to exterminate Europe's Jews.
In his essay, the professor said the victims worked for a "mighty engine of profit to which the military dimension of U.S. policy has always been enslaved." He also argued that the terrorists who carried out the attacks "manifested the courage of their convictions" and "when you push people around, some people push back. There is justice in such symmetry."
Hamilton College spokesman Michael DeBraggio said the school has no plans to withdraw its invitation to Churchill, an expert on indigenous issues and chairman of the ethnic studies program at the Colorado school.
DeBraggio said administrators "sympathize" with the families and agree that Churchill's views are "repugnant and disparaging" to many people. He repeated, however, that the school is committed to the free exchange of ideas and diverse opinions and believes it is an appropriate part of the liberal arts education process.
DeBraggio said the school has received a "significant" number of e-mails, letters and telephone calls from angry families but said no one was counting them.
Thomas J. Meehan of Carteret, N.J., who lost his 26-year-old daughter in the attacks, said Churchill uses "dangerous" words that "bring out the evil in mankind."
"By his own words, he exceeds the 'Limits of Dissent,"' Meehan wrote in a letter to college officials.
"A university is a marketplace of ideas founded on legitimacy, not on vile characterizations of victims as a means of engaging in cheap self-promotion," added Elliott Scheinberg, whose wife, Angela died, in the attacks. He also protested to the school.
College President Joan Hinde Stewart has appointed a panel of five faculty members to review the Kirkland Project for the Study of Gender, Society and Culture, which is sponsoring the panel. In December, Kirkland Project coordinator Nancy Rabinowitz created more controversy by inviting 1960s Weather Underground radical Susan Rosenberg to campus to teach a short writing course.
Rosenberg withdrew following weeks of protests and debate.
Asked if the protest over Churchill's appearance prompted the review, DeBraggio responded: "The program has had the same director for eight years. She is going on sabbatical next year. It was good timing."
The panel will make its recommendations by the end of May, he said.
In Colorado, where Churchill also has come under renewed criticism, CU officials said his views don't represent the opinions of anyone affiliated with the university but that he had a right to express them. On Thursday, two Colorado congressmen called on Churchill to apologize.
Rep. Mark Udall, D-Eldorado Springs, said freedom of speech does not excuse teachers or professors for uttering nonsense and calling it instruction.
"The professor's remarks go beyond dissent. His interpretation of what happened on 9/11 is factually inaccurate, and his defamation of the attacks' victims is indefensible and reprehensible," said Udall. "It blames America first, and it fails to bring any rationality or academic value to understanding Islamic societies, the root causes of terrorism, and the threat that Islamic fundamentalists pose to America and other countries-including those with Muslim majorities. The professor has every right to say what he wishes, but if he expects to be taken seriously, his remarks need to be based on facts and reflect a better understanding of both our country and its enemies."
"Over 3,000 innocent -- yes, innocent -- people died in the Sept. 11 attacks. We owe it to them and their families to investigate events leading up to and including Sept. 11, and we must have a responsible debate about national policy and strategies to fight terrorism. And Mr. Churchill owes the 9/11 families an apology," Udall said.
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